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Sri Thakur Nigamananda Paramahamsa

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Life Sketch of Sri Sri Thakur Nigamananda Paramahamsa

Birth Place, Time and Parentage

Sri Sri Thakur Nigamananda Paramahamsa Dev was born of father Bhuvanamohan Bhattacharya and mother Manikyasundari Devi, in the village Kutabpur of erstwhile East Bengal, India in the year 1880. His name at birth was Nalinikanta. Not yet well known to the world at large, he was a famous Sadguru (spiritual Master) of India, a great Tantrik, (ritualistic propitiator of Gods and Goddesses), realised Brahmajnani and Siddhayogi (an adept Yogi who experienced oneness of the individual and the universal self in Niirvikalpa samadhi), a Premik (mystic who was imbued with love of God) and, above all a theosophist or theoscientist all rolled into one. Spiritual experiences and preaching of Sri Sri Thakur were as unique as the course of events of his life as shown in the following brief narrative.

Spiritual Pursuits

Like most other materialistic and non-believing friends, while he was a student of the high school and later on as a Land Survey Unit Supervisor in a feudal estate, though a sincere and kind humanist in heart, Nalinikanta did not believe in the existence of the soul after death. When he was barely twenty and had been married he was once astonished by the appearance of his young wife's shadow-image standing close to his office table in a room illuminated by a kerosene lamp. He was then camping at a long distance from his home where, he later knew, his wife had passed away about an hour before her appearance in the astral body. In those days theosophists in Madras, India, were calling spirits. Nalinikanta came in contact with the theosophists, but was not satisfied despite his efforts to have another astral contact with his wife through planchet calls and mediums. He was, however, consoled by a Samnyasi, Swami Purnananda Saraswati, that if he could please the universal mother Goddess she may materialise as his wife as was his desire.

Tantrik Sadhana

In the meantime, surprisingly he received a monosyllable formula or Mantra (Word) from a Sadhu (Monk) during his dream state. Mentally repeating the Mantra with one pointed attention, seated on the cremation ground at midnight under the guidance of the then great Tantrik Master, Vamakshepa of Bengal, not only he was able to get the darshan (vision) of the divine mother, but through her grace the vision of his wife as well whenever he wished. However, he observed that the vision appeared from and disappeared into his own being. This was greatly intriguing for Nalinikanta who, then, with the permission of his Tantrik Master, set out in search of yet another spiritual Master who would be able to help him solve the mystery.

Initiation into Samnyas

After a long and tedious travelling from place to place he finally met and chose Swami Satchidananda Saraswati of Pushkar in Rajasthan as his new Master. Swamiji (honorific title) initiated Nalinikanta into Vaidantik (based on the rules of Vedanta) Samnyas order and renamed him as Swami Nigamananda Saraswati. Under the guidance of the new Master he studied and deliberated on the Vedanta (literally the terminal portion of the Vedas: the system of Indian philosophy that deals with spiritual knowledge as a means of liberation) philosophy of the monistic school due to the great Sankaracharya and then traveled to the four corners of India as a part of his spiritual exercise. This was intended to help him discover the identity of the individual with the supreme universal self, the Parabrahman (Existence-consciousness-bliss absolute). However, his first-hand direct realisation of it was yet to come by means of meditation in Yogic Samadhi. Later, directed by his Master, he thus had to again set out in search of a Yogiguru or a Master of Yoga.

Search for a Yogiguru

This search was as tedious, frustrating and risky as it had been earlier. Finally as luck would have it, Master Sumerdasji (who also happened to be the original Master of the theosophists round the world) was seen deliberately waiting for him under a tree within the cave of whose large trunk Nigamananda had to spend the previous night having to avoid the attack of wild animals in the dense forest of the North-Eastern Himalayan ranges in Assam. It was to Nigamananda's astonishment and delight, the new Master invited him and taught him the theory and practice of Yogic Samadhi for a few months within his cave-residence. The Master then directed him to get back to a suitable family house, eat the right kind of food and practice while remaining under good care and in solitude.

Yogic Practices and Nirvikalpa Samadhi

It was in Gauhati, Assam Nigamananda found the required household retreat and excellent fostering service of the housewife. Having done and practiced the preliminary cleansing processes for a few months, Nigamananda was able to soon master the Savikalpa Samadhi, the trance in which the Yogi loses his body consciousness and acquires a transcendental consciousness while his individual identity is still retained. Soon after, Nigamananda desired to experience the state of Nirvikalpa - the most advanced of Yogic Samadhis. He did enter by way of this Samadhi the all pervading state of eternal consciousness and experience the supreme state of bliss from the first hand realisation of Aham Brahmasmi (I am superconsciousness) with the total loss of duality between the individual and the universal self. But as providence would have it, he was returned into his body with the residual consciousness of "I am the Master or Guru", although he had originally resolved not to return in as much as, there appeared to be no need for it and he had not appointed any assistant to help him return.

Cultivation of Divine Love

Even having had such extreme form of yogic feat and super-human experience, it appeared that Nigamananda was still not having the ultimate fulfillment. By now he had already traversed the path to the first hand experience of the universal self but the mystery of the created world, the worships offered to personal Gods and Goddesses as if they are located in specific places known to be pilgrimage centres, may come as incarnations to the earth, and above all, the nature of ignorance of the human soul, Avidya, still remained to be unraveled.

He then remembered the call of Gauri Mata, a great Siddhayogini whom he had met during his earlier trip to the Himalayas. Mataji had suggested Nigamananda to meet with her if ever he succeeded in experiencing Nirvikalapa and returning from that state. Sometime later Nigamananda met Gauri Mata who, by means of transcendental induction process, helped him experience the eternal nature of divine love-play, which is the motive behind the apparent and ephemeral creation.

The mysterious divine forces at work, Nigamananda realised, sustain the creation along with the diverse biological relationships that operate between husband and wife; father, mother and the children; master and servant, and between friends etc. Despite being mundane these can be treated as quasi-divine only by one who has had the experience of the supreme reality (or Parabrahman) with that of His sporting or playful nature such that He is titled as God (or Bhagawan). The master creator multiplying Himself in the form of the created universe and then withdrawing back in succession, continues to enjoy His own divine play.

Having obtained such insight into that mystery through the gracious mediation of Gauri Mata, Nigamananda came back to the Garo hills in Assam and remained engrossed in this new mode of Sadhana (known as Bhava Sadhana or practices in divine love mode) inside a hamlet. During this period he remained surcharged, day and night with bliss and ecstasy out of the experience of yet another dimension of the mystic relationship with God as taught by many earlier sages e.g. Ray Ramananda and Sri Krishna Chaitanya (Gauranga Mahaprabhu) among others. During this period of Sadhana Nigamananda frequently lost his external senses, wept and laughed and remained deeply merged in transcendental love usually of the romantic type that operates between the lover and the beloved, due to which people there-around mistook him as a lunatic:

One ever absorbed in the whimsical belovedIn reality only he is wise, my friend!The world knows not of that intoxicationEyes open or closed find the light everywhere,On all sides in this universe or beyond.

(After Sharmad, the mystic)

Paramahamsa Status

Swami Nigamananda, once in the presence of his preceptor (principal Master) of Vedanta philosophy, Swami Satchidananda Saraswati, was publicly examined for his maturity of spiritual experience by one of the contemporary senior Shankaracharyas who was presiding as the representative Jagadguru (World Master) at the Kumbha Mela (the great congregation of monks and ascetics). Pleased with his answers, the Shankaracharya recognised him as a Paramahamsa (one established in the Parabrahman), the ultimate stage attainable by a Samnyasi. Although unbelievable it is a fact that the span of Nigamananda's checkered Sadhana career described in the foregoing was not more than four years at the end of which he had already acquired fame as Sri Sri Thakur (Godman or Master). At this stage Sri Sri Thakur was a young man aged about thirty years.

Publications and Institutions

Soon afterwards he wrote and published within a short time his famous Bengali books: "Brahmacharya Sadhan, Yogiguru, Tantrikguru, Jnaniguru, Premikguru, and Vedantavivek which dealt with the fundamentals of theory and practical methods of almost all the modes of Sadhana or spiritual practice prevalent in Sanatan Dharma based on his first hand experience and not merely on textual sources. He also published Arya Darpan, a monthly magazine intended for disseminating non-sectarian spiritual knowledge among the masses who are apt to be misguided by narrow religious faith lacking in a rational basis. In his several letters written to his hundreds of disciples and in the discourses and gospels delivered to his inquisitive devotees a vast treasure of spiritual message is contained and those are also available in books published in Bengali. An English translation of his gospels has been recently published (Vide end of narrative for complete address).

Sri Sri Thakur established his well known principal Math, the Assam Bangiya Saraswat Math having the altar for the Gurubrahma (Guru the supreme) at Kokilamukh in Assam and then several Saraswat Ashrams in different zones of Bengal, of which the one known as the Dakshin Bangla Saraswat Ashram at Halisahar, 24 Parganas assumed greater importance during the later years owing to its location on the bank of the river Ganga near Calcutta and also due to the temple built on his grave within its premises. Sri Sri Thakur initiated ten of his devout disciples into Samnyas in the tradition of the Saraswati order due to the great Sankaracharya, the juniormost among whom were Swami Nirvanananda Saraswati (an erudite scholar, philosopher and writer who became famous as Anirvan later on) and Swami Prajnananda Saraswati. Swearing in Swami Prajnanandaji as the Mahanta and Trustee of the Saraswat Math and Ashram establishments, Sri Sri Thakur retired and resided in Neelachal Kuteer in Puri for several years until he cast off his physical body in November, 1935 in Calcutta.

Sri Sri Thakur's Mission

Sri Sri Thakur Nigamananda's mission was:

 

To propagate Sanatan Dharma, i.e. spiritual foundation of the Hindu religion,

To spread the right kind of education among people (and publish spiritual literature with emphasis on character building), and

To provide service to all created beings, in general, with the attitude of serving the indwelling God.

In order to achieve the above objectives he initiated several thousand interested men and women of all walks of life and taught them his unique spiritual practices devoid of any sectarian bias in the form of a complete package of worship, prayer and meditation. He encouraged his disciples to meet periodically in groups (Samgha) of three or more for offering prayer and worship to the Guru, exchanging spiritual experiences, chanting of "Jaiguru" (a non-sectarian Word meaning "Glory due to the Master", which he invented), reading spiritual books and dwelling on the ideas therein, devising ways and means for the management of the Math and the Ashrams and pledging to lead the life of a spiritually inspired ideal householder. He also called upon his devotees, both householders and Samnyasis, to annually meet in a conference (Bhakta-sammilani or congregation of devotees) in order to strengthen the various prayer groups, discuss the need for having the Guru in one's life, review the well-being of Samnyasis living in the Ashrams, help solve problems pertaining to them and the Ashrams as a whole, provide welfare services, such as schools, if any, for the communities and finally to organise spiritual meetings in order to hold lectures by enlightened speakers on contemporary problems of public spiritual life. All these activities are intended, Sri Sri Thakur pointed out, to help in the spiritual advancement of the disciples such that they will be able to attain peace and true happiness in life.

Sri Sri Thakur's Specialty, Philosophy and Teachings

Attainment and Outlook

The doctrines of the monistic school of Vedanta philosophy due to the great Shankaracharya had been thoroughly studied earlier by Sri Sri Thakur after he was initiated as a Samnyasi of that Order. Later his experience of oneness of the individual and universal self in yoga Samadhi made him dispel all doubts and become fully realised and blissful like many others of his kind. However, unlike most others, he had to further learn the science and art, followed by the cultivation, of divine love and could experience uninterrupted ecstasy! Then alone he became qualified as an all round and perfect spiritual Master!

Sri Sri Thakur disliked to deliver speeches /discourses on public platforms. He preferred to speak to small groups of sincere devotees and wished to be a personal spiritual guide. He shunned publicity and much of a pomp and grandeur. He usually appeared an introvert and generally reticent but had a great sense of humour. He always remained merged in the supreme Brahman (all pervading reality) both in its impersonal as well as in its divine merciful aspects.

As a Sadguru Sri Sri Thakur was unique! He was able to enlighten and guide, with equal ease and efficiency, any aspirant, (whether a Tantrik ,a seeker of knowledge of the one supreme reality, a Yogi of any class, a mystic lover of God or just any simple minded seeker) with an appropriate package of practices that would benefit each class.

Avatar and Sadguru

Sri Sri Thakur never admitted that he was God-incarnate or an "Avatar" although many of his disciples fancied to identify him as one. He stated that an incarnation is an exclusive descent of God on earth to uphold spiritual order in a region, country or even the whole world. Although he could, the Avatar ordinarily does not enlighten or guide individuals, per se. Through his agency righteousness is established and demoniac forces are destroyed at large. Sri Sri Thakur wanted that he should be treated as a Sadguru (a perfect spiritual Master, also one form of God) who, on account of his long quest over succession of births and deaths, attained to the knowledge of his Swaroop (true or potential nature, i.e., supreme universal consciousness). There is scriptural evidence to show that Gautam himself had to pass through many births before acquiring the qualities to realise the truth and become the great Buddha!

Sri Sri Thakur further pointed out that an "Avatar" does not always remain in the state of super-human consciousness so as to be able to take part in Leela i.e. divine play! As we note in the Bhagavadgeeta, Sri Krishna said,

"The fools who are ignorant of My potential overlordship deride Me." (IX - ll).

A sadguru, however, remaining , always self conscious and benign, is rarely misunderstood!

Invoking blessings of the almighty Goddess, Sri Sri Thakur assured liberation of his sincere disciples from bondage within one life, if they did so require. And even those that disregarded him would not take more than three lives: such was his kindness, sympathy and authority to help liberate the mortals from whom he demanded nothing other than pure love! Sharmad, the famous mystic describes pure love as follows:

Day and night the flame of love smoulders within the heart,It seems to gain energy from inside.The tears that flow from the eyes nourish the vine of love,And during meditation the lover assumes the form of the beloved.

And in the case of the delinquent, the same forces which once invoked in him love and attraction for the Master, would again lead him at some other point of time, may be, in another life and help him obtain salvation.

Sadguru, Jagadguru and God

According to Sri Sri Thakur the disciple should take his Guru (a Sadguru, of course) to be the Jagadguru (or the World Master, the Purushottama) and not an ordinary human being, in tune with Lord Krishna's statement in the Bhagavadgeeta,

"He who truely knows My birth and activities to be divine is not born again but attains to Me" (IV - 9).

Also like in Patanjali's aphorism: "By contemplating on the form of one who has no attachments, concentration of mind is attained", Sri Sri Thakur advised his disciples to meditate on his physical form such that all the admirable qualities and attributes in him would get automatically transferred into their beings and fashion their souls. Further he assured that because he had, by triple modes of spiritual practice, simultaneously experienced the nature of Brahman, Paramatma (supreme universal self) and Bhagawan (Personal and universal Godhead) as the ultimate spiritual goals of the seekers, his true disciples also would simultaneously have such experience. "That," he said, "was his only expectation from his disciples and he would love to wait for the day to see that fulfilled".

Order of Spiritual Attainments

Because the monistic theory of self realisation requires expanding the individual self to the status of the supreme universal self, according to Sri Sri Thakur it can be directly practiced only by the most competent among the aspirant Samyasis by means of precise intellectual inquiry, analysis and deep meditation, although the service to the Master holds the key to success in such pursuits as well. However, Sri Sri Thakur pointed out that true transcendental divine love and ecstasy could be properly experienced by the most fortunate ones only after they had attained monistic realisation of the supreme as declared by Lord Krishna Himself in the Bhagavadgeeta:

"Having realised the state of oneness with the supreme self or Parabrahman and attaining tranquillity in spirit, the aspirant neither grieves nor desires and regarding all beings as alike he attains supreme devotion to Me" (XVIII-54). (i.e. the devotee experiences supreme form of divine love)

And,

"Through devotion he comes to know Me, what My forms are and who I am in truth and then he forthwith enters into Me"(XVIII-55). (i.e. he is now in loving union with God Whose nature he knows and which he acquires himself and hence is now fit to act as a Sadguru, as it indeed came to pass in the life of Sri Sri Thakur).

Devoid of prior attainment to such spiritual experience, practice of informal love (Premabhakti) for God by artificial means may be frustrating! However, those who already had such realisations in the past life may be able to attain to divine love quickly enough during the present life.

Reconciliation of Monistic and Dualistic Pursuits

Unlike some other saints who recognised and preached a diversity of equally valid doctrines for self / God realisation and as many valid paths to attain to those, Sri Sri Thakur suggested the realisation of oneness of self and the supreme universal self (or Parabrahman) as the true and the highest goal of human life. And the path leading to it, in the case of most aspirants, is one of true devotion for the perfect spiritual Master (Sadguru) who initiates them. Rendering personal Service to the Master and invoking his grace through prayers, chanting and simple meditation are the chief modes of spiritual practice for them. They will thus, not only acquire non-dualistic realisation knowing, for sure, that their Master is a realised soul (Brahmajnani) and trying to live up to his teachings, but also experience bliss due to intense love for him in course of time, when they are enabled to participate in his Leela (love play) for helping others to achieve self/God realisation.

Sri Sri Thakur pointed out that the path shown by Gouranga Mahaprabhu who practiced and preached unconditional devotion and love for God was rather narrow, in as much as it was directed to Sri Krishna as the only God. In order to broad-base that path, Sri Sri Thakur suggested to take the Master as an embodiment of Sri Krishna (or any other deity whom the aspirant loved), in which case the guide himself becomes his goal.

In this way Sri Sri Thakur convincingly formulated a reconciliation of the two apparently contradictory creeds, one due to the great Shankaracharya, the founder of the monistic school of Vedanta philosophy and the other due to Gauranga Mahaprabhu who advocated the principle and practice of apparent duality between the devotee and God. After all, Sri Sri Thakur pointed out that in the path of devotion and love the aspirant has to subdue or tame his ego adequately and hence he attains to the same stage as that of the monistic aspirant whose ego loses its identity on attaining to his goal. In the former case, the individuality of the devotee is reduced to a trifling, overpowered by personal god-consciousness, whereas in the latter the aspirant loses his self-consciousness in the ocean of impersonal universal consciousness.

Jnanachakra

Sri Sri Thakur was greatly tolerant towards the various prevalent spiritual doctrines or philosophies, both Indian and foreign, and considered that each one of them fulfils a purpose and fits into the grand scheme of stratified spiritual realisations. He pointed out that although the doctrine of monistic vedanta philosophy treats the supreme reality in terms of oneness of individual and universal consciousness, it does not systematically explain the structure of the material creation which, on the other hand, is done by Samkhya philosophy. But this latter does not treat the supreme reality as well. Similarly, whereas Christianity emphasises on service and surrender as means to God realisation, the Indian philosophy of Poorva Mimamsa prescribes various ritualistic actions for the attainment of personal and collective happiness despite cycles of birth and death.

By means of a Jnanachakra chart (the spheres of spiritual cosmology) which he visualized and presented in a pictorial form, Sri Sri Thakur identified different layers of human consciousness inter-woven in the microcosm (body) and the macrocosm (the universe) and pointed out the levels which the aspirants of different spiritual orders and sects may ultimately reach. In this chart he placed Sri Krishna and Sri Radha (or the Guru and Yogamaya) in the transition between the non qualified (Nirguna) Brahman and qualified (Saguna) Brahman, which he called as the Nitya or the Bhavaloka. (Yogamaya is a form of divine power, which incessantly attracts the earth-bound souls and helps them realise their true blissful nature and participate in the divine play). This concept is considered to be a unique contribution of Sri Sri Thakur towards the evolution of spiritual thoughts, based on his own insight and mystic experiences.

The address of the only English book available on the life history of Sri Sri Thakur Nigamananda is given at the end of the narrative.

Other important teachings of Sri Sri Thakur Nigamananda Paramahamsa

1) To be able to get spiritually liberated one needs the help of a liberated person (a Master Sadguru or simply Guru). In the Hindu scriptures that person is known as the Guru. Without his grace or favor none can make any progress in the path leading to liberation. Also he who has attained the ultimate reality (Paramatman or Brahman) as one and the same as himself (the Atman) is the Guru.

2) The Guru who helps in getting one liberated cannot be equated in importance to formal learning, pilgrimage or divinity. If we do not offer our deep devotion and love to Him, who else then is fit for getting our utmost respect?

3) The Guru indeed is the embodiment of the essence of what the Vedanta teaches – the individual self (the Atman) is one and the same as the cosmic self (Paramatman or Brahman).

4) A Sadguru never curses anyone. Even if He appears to be angry, that too is going to do good to the disciple. The advantage of depending on a Sadguru is unique. One doesn't have the same advantage depending even on God because God never materializes to give instructions. The Guru in practice provides the required guidance leading the disciple to the ultimate goal.

5) The Guru and the disciple are inseparable in a way. The Guru cannot exist without being a part of a true disciple's personality or character.

6) There are two pathways to attain spiritual liberation: one is by initiation into and observing the austerities of samnyas yoga and the other – by service rendered to a Sadguru Who has had realization of Brahman. The former is extremely arduous a path – the disciple must die in a sense even while he remains in his body. In other words, he has to loose his body consciousness. But if one unconditionally loves the Guru by way of rendering service to him sincerely, spiritual liberation may be obtained relatively easy.

7) Nothing substantial can be achieved without Guru's grace. I (Sri Sri Thakur) have been wandering far and wide like a bird as if with its voice box mutilated but have not had God coming and helping me. But the day I was able to have the grace or the benefit of the Guru (Who is God in human form), I started making real progress.

8) The Guru, `the mantra' that he gives during initiation and the disciple's choicest divinity (or Ista) are one and the same. Unless the Guru becomes the choicest divinity the mantra received from Him looses its power.

9) Acquisition of disciples through initiation is not Guru's profession; it is the inspiration of His heart. The Guru initiates takes care and guides the disciple hoping that one day the disciple will get spiritually enlightened.

10) The Guru is the embodiment of both the monistic (or non-dual) ideology due to the Great Shankaracharaya and love divine as preached by Sri Sri Gouranga Mahaprahbu. If the disciple submits himself to the Guru his latent characteristic attitude is bound to unfold. Spiritual life based on such a universal (non-sectarian) and sweet relationship between the Guru and the disciple can help harmonize the diverse faiths in the world.

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